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Slow cooking chicken sous vide

3 September 2007

Oh dear - this looks like another development project!

Ive wanted to emulate Heston Blumenthal by raising the temperature of chicken and beef very slowly to the required roasting temperature and then browning it off rapidly so as to retain as much succulence as possible. Then I saw Sat Bains in the BBCs Great British Menu doing this is a vacuum bag and a water bath, and that struck me as potentially preferable to raising the temperature in an open oven.

Why? First because the vacuum bag will retain all the moisture in the meat and secondly because water conducts heat a lot better than air and should therefore get the temperature up faster.

The first test

An opportunity arose on August Bank Holiday Monday to test the technique. We were having a barbecue, and The Arrow Farm Shop where I buy most of my meat had no chicken portions - just whole birds. I decided to buy two and joint them myself.

Weve always been a bit anxious about barbecuing chicken (and so would you be if youd ever done a Food Hygiene course!), so Ive always pre-cooked the portions in the oven and just finished them on the barbie. Of course, this tends to dry the meat out. So, for the first experiment, this is what I did...

First, I put on our huge Bourgeat professional stockpot, full of cold water, on one of the small burners of our gas hob. Then I rinsed the two chickens throroughly inside and out and put each in a large freezer bag. The vacuum was produced by sticking the end of the Dyson pipe in the top of the bag and holding the bag tightly round the pipe! The excess at the top of the bag was then twisted and knotted firmly. The two birds were then dropped into the stockpot, the probe of a digital thermometer was slid between them and the lid was put on. The thermometer was monitored at regular intervals and when it hit 60C the gas was turned down to its lowest setting. The temperature still crept up gradually, so at 63C the gas was turned off for a while. The aim was to keep the pan at this temperature, which will pasteurise food if maintained for 15 minutes, but for several hours to give it time to penetrate the meat.

In the event, with all the other stuff that needed doing, I went back much later and found the temperature aup to73C - the fast pasteurising temperature used for milk, and really too high for optimum meat condition as the protein would have begun to change. Off with the gas, then, and some time later I unbagged one bird and cut it onto thighs, drumsticks, wings and half-breasts. These were quickly browned on the barbecue and got high praise all round. The meat was much moister than I had ever achieved before, and all the flavour had been sealed in.

Patricia (who had also done the Food Hygiene course and is particularly paranoid about chicken, was worried that the meat was still pink and the bones were still red. There was also pink juice in the bag, and everyone knows you have to cook chicken until the juice runs clear. I assured her of the science and we all ate the chicken with no ill-effects. I even had some cold for lunch a couple of days later - still quite succulent. I reckon the clear-juice trick has a large safety margin!

The second test

As usual wed over-catered, so the second bird wasnt used. I therefore let it cool in the sealed bag and left it in the fridge for five days. It was then roasted in a very hot oven for about half an hour - until the skin was nicely browned.

We ate some warm with salad, and again we were delighted with the result. It also went down very well cold over the next couple of days.

For my next trick...

This project went on the back burner for a while. You can find where it went next in Sous-vide cookery...

Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.

This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.